March 20, 2012 (NJToday) – U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and five of his Senate colleagues have introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at providing every veteran who receives educational assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with the counseling services needed to make informed decisions about their education. The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Scott Brown (R-MA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
“If we don’t follow through on the promise of the G.I. Bill and ensure our veterans are succeeding in school, then its benefits are greatly diminished,” said Lautenberg, an Army veteran and beneficiary of the original G.I. Bill. “The G.I. Bill can only be fully effective if veterans have the tools needed to choose the school that is right for them. Today’s veterans have made tremendous sacrifices for our country and they deserve a quality education in gratitude for their service.”
Recent reports have indicated veterans at some educational institutions are persuaded to enroll by unscrupulous or deceitful marketing tactics and are never given the quality education they are promised. However, many veterans may not be aware of counseling services offered by the VA designed to help them navigate the educational process. Last year, fewer than 6,500 beneficiaries of VA educational assistance—out of hundreds of thousands receiving these benefits—requested assistance and under current law only those who request help can receive counseling services.
The “GI Educational Freedom Act of 2012” would address these issues by providing comprehensive educational counseling to all veterans eligible for educational benefits. In addition, this bill would establish a tracking system at the VA for veterans to report instances of waste, fraud, and abuse at their schools to ensure veterans are receiving quality education. A copy of the bill language can be found on Lautenberg’s website.
Rubio said, “Providing our veterans with the benefits of the G.I. Bill when they return is important, but it is just as important to help them use these opportunities in an effective way. I am proud to cosponsor the G.I. Educational Freedom Act which would help guide our returning men and women with educational counseling services so they make informed college decisions.”
“We have an obligation to provide both veterans and active duty members with the tools they need to make sound decisions about their education,” said Brown. “While there are many educational options for those who sacrifice so much, we need to make sure that these important assistance programs are held to the highest standards of quality. By ensuring veterans have access to counseling services and information to make informed decisions, this bill is a good starting point for putting service members on a course for future success.”
“It’s one thing to fight a war. Our veterans shouldn’t have to come home and fight for quality education,” said Mikulski, a member of the Senate Military Family Caucus. “The Post-9/11 GI Bill represents America’s commitment to those who have served our nation. This bill will help honor that commitment by giving veterans the counseling they need to make sure they have the information they need to make a sound decision and are protected from scams and schemes. Veterans earned these benefits and they deserve the best educational opportunity available to them find a job, or get a better job than they had in the past. I want America’s veterans to know that America supports them.”
“Arming our veterans with key information about their educational benefits and options empowers them to make an informed decision about which school best meets their needs,” said Harkin. “And by creating a student complaint system, this pro-consumer legislation also takes an important step at safeguarding both veterans and taxpayers from fraud, waste, and abuse. These are common-sense, basic measures for protecting the integrity of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.”
“The G.I. Bill is a powerful tool. It helped create the middle class. It laid the pathway to good-paying jobs for millions of Americans. We must ensure that the veterans who have served our country so admirably and honorably have all the information they need to make best-use of the G.I. Bill,” Merkley said.
The bill is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).
“The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill could be the transformative benefit for today’s service members and veterans, but the VFW believes that we must ensure that our veterans have all the tools they need to succeed in higher education. This bill will do just that,” said VFW Executive Director Bob Wallace. “Through just a few simple steps, we can ensure that student-veterans are armed with the best information to make an academic choice, and that they can take action when a school doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain. This bipartisan bill presents some common sense, easy-to-implement solutions that will help our student-veterans succeed in higher education without restricting their choice of schools or placing unreasonable burdens on campuses that open their doors to student-veterans.”
“IAVA supports the GI Educational Freedom Act of 2012. Making sound educational choices is at the heart of veterans’ ability to succeed as students and receive the job training and education necessary to position them for success in the civilian workforce. Currently, gaining access to clear and consistent information is difficult: either it does not exist or, when it does, is difficult to find and understand,” said Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). “Many veterans also do not have the tools available to evaluate their educational options and take full advantage of their educational benefits, including the GI Bill. Further confusing the issue are the efforts of some schools who engage in deceptive recruiting practices. They’re failing to deliver the quality job training, skills, or education that our country promised our veterans, leaving many with nothing to show for the time, effort and money that they expended. IAVA refuses to let these practices and outcomes jeopardize the entire future of the New GI Bill which we fought so hard for.”
“MOAA strongly supports measures to strengthen counseling opportunities and establish a complaint resolution process for veterans using their GI Bill benefits after service to the nation,” said MOAA president VADM Norb Ryan (USN-Ret). “MOAA believes these actions can help our veterans’ readjustment and protect the integrity of new GI Bill benefits Senator Lautenberg strongly supported for Afghanistan and Iraq veterans. MOAA pledges its full support for early enactment of the GI Educational Freedom Act.”